The art of medicine

April 8, 2005

Fine art in the office can make your practice feel friendlier—and might even be a good investment.

First-time visitors to Yaffe Ruden and Associates-a full-service primary care practice in New York City-are sometimes a bit . . . well . . . confused.

Part of the problem is the oversized space and solarium-like waiting room, which makes the office seem like the posh Upper East Side eatery it once was. Equally confusing are the whimsically attired, life-size dummies posed nonchalantly among the real-life patients.

But it's the prominently displayed art on the walls that leaves some newcomers thinking they've taken a wrong turn, perhaps into a local gallery. In fact, four of the practice's walls do make up a kind of gallery, featuring paintings, photographs, and sculpture for sale by patients, staff, and even artistically inclined drug reps.

Theirs may be a unique concept. But other doctors are also eager to decorate their office walls with something other than bird prints and full-color illustrations of the digestive track. Some, like Yaffe and Ruden, collect and display works from various artists; others favor the works of talented friends or family members; and still others display their own art.

Whatever the case, art displayed in the office, these doctors say, creates a welcoming atmosphere for patients and a friendly work environment for their colleagues and staff. And if what's displayed is of sufficiently high quality, it may also prove a sound investment down the road.

Surrounded by art-and some is for sale Like a lot of doctors who love being surrounded by art, Bruce Yaffe isn't himself an artist, not even a good amateur one. "I drew a stick figure in fourth grade," he says, summing up his artistic output to date.

His patients are another story, however. Many work in creative fields, and paint or photograph or sculpt on the side. One of his patients, for instance, is a catalogue photographer at Sotheby's, the world-famous auction house. He's also a talented artist who welcomes opportunities to display his nonwork-related photographs. In their new office, Yaffe and his partner knew they had the wall space to do just that, not only for this patient, but for scores of others who'd also had few opportunities to exhibit their works. "They were eager to show their creativity, and we were happy to be able to do it here," says Yaffe.

One of those patients was Suzan Roth, who displayed her colored-pencil drawings of male and female nudes and who now serves as both practice receptionist and gallery curator. It's her job to find new artists and stage their exhibits. She also coordinates the artist's reception, where friends, family, and other invited guests view the new exhibit for the first time.

"We suggest to the artists that they keep their prices down," says Roth. "The more than 200 people who walk into the office each day aren't coming in to buy art, but if the price is right, they're more likely to act on impulse."

Typically, prices range from $200 to several thousand dollars for a few of the better-established artists. The practice charges no commission. Instead, it asks artists who have sold work to donate one of their modestly priced pieces. "These donated works not only serve as the artists' token of appreciation, they're also something we can place on our walls as part of our permanent collection," says Yaffe. (To view past displays, go to http://www.yafferuden.com, and click on "gallery.")